TYLER, Texas (KETK) —  The COVID-19 pandemic has brought shortages nationwide including interpreters for American Sign Language. Tyler Junior College is helping train more certified interpreters to help alleviate the problem.

“We are in a crisis. We are in a crisis worldwide nationwide, statewide and especially here in East Texas,” said TJC’s Interpreter Training Program Coordinator, Kim Hunt.

Sign language interpreters provide vital communications between the deaf and hearing worlds. As they assist everywhere between classrooms to courtrooms and even doctor’s offices. Without interpreters, it may seem like the hard of hearing are cut off from the rest of the world.

 “In the United States, there are 10 million Deaf or Hard of Hearing people. In the State of Texas, more than 350,000 people are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Hunt. “There are only around 1,500 active certified interpreters who can serve them. We have 90,000 community members that are either deaf or hard of hearing in East Texas alone and within the surrounding area. We do have a very severe shortage of certified interpreters.”

TJC’s Deaf Education Studies professor, Scott Whitney, said that in Nacogdoches the Deaf community is small, so he wanted to go to Tyler to be a part of a larger Deaf community.

“Then I came, I met one deaf person after another, and I was so excited another thing is that the lab here is super sophisticated. I can teach and have students on different computers. While working, they can practice their vocabulary. I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed my time here,” said Whitney.

To help alleviate the shortage, Tyler Junior College is offering a two-year program for the applied science degree in sign language interpreting and are able to start during any semester. 

“They do a practicum out in the field and by graduation, they are ready to either be mentored, interned or do an apprenticeship in the area. The other goal is to get them prepped to take the test of English proficiency. Once passed, they are able to take the performance test with the state and if passed, they are ready to go to work,” said Hunt.

Three other certificates are available for people in professions where learning ASL skills can be an asset in careers such as healthcare, education and law enforcement.

The reality of ASL interpreters requires a lot of traveling. With the shortage and active interpreters out on assignment, those in need are having to request interpreters from elsewhere to come and serve in East Texas.

If interested in becoming a certified American Sign Language interpreter for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, click here.